Today at the Castle of the Muses we have been celebrating Yom Kippur, the
Day of Atonement, which is the holiest day of the Jewish year, but one
which also has universal significance outside the strict fold of Judaism
per se. It comes at the end of the holiday period which began with Rosh
Hashanah, New years Day, and which culminates now, today, in Yom Kippur.
This whole 10 day period is a time for reflection, for contemplation, as
we celebrate anything new, it is also brought home to us that we have to
consider our actions in the previous year and see where we could have done
better, where we failed to uphold the operation of the divine image, which
dwells restlessly in each one of us. Have we fulfilled the tasks which the
Ultimate has asked of us this past year ? What responsibilities can we
undertake in this coming year ? All these thoughts are with not only the
Jewish community on this sacred day, but also ought to be universally with
us all. We all should use this time to stop and pause a while and ask:
“how could I have done that better ? In what have I fallen short, and need
to ask forgiveness, and to find strength to repair the damage caused ?
There is also recognition on this day, that all our shortcomings are
somehow shared. Our karmas interweave. As Jesus pointed out in his way of
defusing the righteous anger of a judicial stoning, “let him who is
without sin cast the first stone”. So as the international community tries
to decide which stones to cast at whom over the unleashing of Chemical
weapons in Syria, we would perhaps do well to remember this, and seek
instead to put these weapons away from all further use. But why stop there
? Why not seek to rid the entire world of all nuclear and all chemical and
all biological weapons, and why not seek to disarm as much as possible,
our fellow human beings from access to the deadly firepower of modern
conventional weapons, such as those being used to such deadly effect in
the street battles inside Syria. Now on this day of Yom Kippur, we should
be asking each other: is this really the best world we can make together ?
Is all this killing and fighting the best way that all those parents who
loved and laboured long to bring and raise lives into the world, wish for
their sons and daughters to end up, in a thousands individual
crucifixions, by bullet or by bomb or noxious odours ?

At the Castle of the Muses today we have celebrated the following Sages
and Saints: for Christianity, Joseph Priestley, the Unitarian Christian
theologian, freemason (member of the Lodge of the 9 Sisters) and
discoverer of Oxygen, from his laboratory at Bowood House, close to St
Mary’s School in Calne, Wiltshire, where I had the pleasure to teach
philosophy and religious studies for a year recently. Bowood was also one
of the favourite haunts of philosopher Jeremy Bentham, founder of the
University of London, and he often used to go for long walks in its
grounds talking to the ladies of the house about the complexities of law
and ethics and happiness… The in house Journal of St Mary’s is called
Oxygen, after Priestley’s great discovery, and without Oxygen, we would
literally none of us be here. For Buddhism we celebrated
Sundari Nanda who was the younger half-sister of Buddha and sister of
Nanda. She was the child of King Suddhodana and Buddha’s aunt Maha
Pajapati Gotami. She, like other members of her family, became a Bhikkhuni
(Buddhist nun) and an Arahant, like her brother Nanda. We also celebrated
the recent illustrious Sankaracarya of Dwaraka who in 1960 established a
Sanskrit academy and arts college in Gujarat. One of the 4 great spiritual
teachers of Hinduism, these Sankaracaryas stand as immortal living flames
of all that is holiest in the Vedantic tradition of Hindu philosophy. For
culture, we celebrate Ogai Mori who died in 1922, the Japanese novelist
and poet and romantic. We also commemorate Theano the wife of Pythagoras,
who was a philosopher in her own right, and who lived with Pythagoras at
Crotona, so near to the Southern Italian regions through which the current
author was recently travelling on the way to the world congress of
Philosophy in Athens. We also celebrate Ibn Battutah 1304-1368, the great
Islamic traveler who covered about 75,000 miles in his amazing lifetime (I
reckon I might have covered about the same so far, but then I flew most of
it so that’s not the same). Ibn Battutah was also a geographer, and author
of Rihlah, he came from Tangier, to which he eventually returned and where
he is buried. We also honour the memory of David Wechsler, 1869-? For
Judaism, the Psychologist of intelligence, along with Hsuan Tsung, the
Taoist Emperor of China who knew Buddhist I-Hsing and gave him state
funeral as “Highly Intelligent Scholar of Zen”. Today we also honour the
memory of Guru Nanak who founded the Sikh religion and who was also a
great traveler in search of truth, and sought to synthesize Hinduism with
the best of Islam and make a new living peace oriented tradition, which he
simply called The Studies (Sikhism). I remember going to the Punjab
several times in the past and going to the Golden Temple in Amritsar and
being blown away by the beauty and friendliness of the Sikhs. We also
honour the late scholar Giles Quispel, one of the world’s greatest experts
on Gnostic Christianity, who made available the Gospel of Thomas to Carl
Jung, and was a friend of the later Queen of the Netherlands, and who for
many years laboured to uncover the rich gnostic and Coptic roots of early
Christianity, which he argued were one with the rots of Jewish Qabalah and
esotericism. For freemasonry we honour the life and work of Bernadino
Machado, 1851-1944 President of Portugal, and finally, for women, Palli,
Angeliki 1798-1875, a famous Greek writer. These are the living flames
whose name ornament this day, Yom Kippur and we pray that they live on in
the hearts and minds of al those who love wisdom and honour its many
diverse paths and forms and manifestations. May we all pledge to do better
in this coming year than we have done in this past year, in all we
undertake, and to try to end the wars and violence currently raging on
this planet, and to replace them with a universal peace treaty, including
al faiths, all paths, all spiritual seekings.